Read a compilation of 49 essays centered around food by Taiwanese writers edited by Jiao Tong and Hong Shan Hui. 焦桐和洪珊慧主編的《飲食文選》, 'Best Taiwanese Food Writing 2015'. This annual compilation has gone on for a decade. Jiao Tong is its main editor, but I think he missed 2013. I haven't read any till this book.
Only the title of the book has been officially stated. Any other translations of titles or stories belong to me. These 49 essays are categorized into 11 themes of, Myths, Tales, Kitchen, Food Safety, Fruits & Vegetables, Drinks, Taste, Nostalgia, Poetry, etc. The stories vary in their subject matter. I definitely prefer reading about Taiwanese food more than eating it. Heh. Am a fan of Jiao Tong's writing and zealously went through a few of his books. Assumed that his editorial skills wouldn't suck either, and there would be a few more good Taiwanese food writers out there.
Co-editor Hong Shan Hui didn't contribute any essays. Co-editor Jiao Tong did. Under theme of ‘論述’, 'Discourse' (or 'Discussion'), he wrote《論美食家》, 'About Gourmands'. He reminisced about how he stepped into writing about food—out of greed and a love of eating, and what he thinks of food writers (美食家) today.
After reading 周芳娜的《山苦瓜》, Zhou Fang Na's 'Bittergourd', I had an insane craving to eat what she cooked with it. The story is more than about cooking a dish. It's about her childhood in Taiwan and how she grew these plants at home in California's Silicon Valley. After four months, the plant bore fruit. This particular species of bittergourd (momordica charantia) is smaller and rounder. The writer whipped up a dish of ‘山苦瓜炒鹹鵝蛋黃’ (bittergourd with salted goose egg yolk). She replaced the usual salted duck egg with goose egg. Just as delicious. I love this dish!
One story I like in particular has to do with the protagonist not ever cooking again after a seemingly torturous stint. 心岱的《不屈不撓的燉鴨》, Xin Dai's 'The Indefatigable Stewed Duck'. The writer didn't make high school, and went to work in a wealthy grand-aunt's kitchen. Then she was suddenly let go when the grand-aunt's family was embroiled in some property fight. She returned to her hometown Lugang Township (鹿港) before deciding on her next step. If this is the author's notes about her youth, then she would have been about 16 or 17 years old.
She viewed her mother as one who slaved away in the kitchen all her life for the family, hunched over food and recipes in a time when there wasn't a refrigerator. Her father had taken ill, and she helped out her mother in the kitchen. The story focused on this dish of stewed duck that her mother prepared for the father. No matter what ingredients or style the duck was done in, the important note was 'fire'. It had to be kept even for three hours. This kitchen had no modern amenities and relied on old-school stove, fireplace and charcoal. All these memories felt like too much for her, and even though she heard how her father loved food, how her mother happily cooked for him and the family, she also saw how his appetite diminished as he weakened. Once the father passed away and her mother became vegetarian, she returned to school and never bothered stepping into the kitchen to create such elaborate meals again.